Edwards on Science, Curry on Mann v Steyn

A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting episode of the BBC’s Inside Science programme, looking at the difficulties of explaining science. The host Adam Rutherford started off by interviewing psychologist Lisa Scharrer, about her recent research finding that if people are presented with simplified scientific information, they can over-estimate their understanding of the scientific issue, and how this could be mitigated by emphasising the complexity and uncertainties. I think most of us here would approve of that.

He then spoke to Tamsin Edwards about complex science and public engagement. She also spoke of the importance of “signposting nuance and complexity” and said that “it’s really important to acknowledge that it can be rational to reject aspects of science from experts”. But the quote I liked best was the one I extracted in the above tweet, which seemed to go down well on twitter.

I was meaning to write about this programme at the time, but didn’t get round to it. But this afternoon, I saw that exact quote again. Where? It was quoted at the beginning of a legal brief posted on dropbox by lawyer Andrew Grossman, part of the paperwork of the long-running legal dispute between Michael Mann and the Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Review (often referred to simply as Mann v Steyn).

intro

The brief is written by Judith Curry and lawyers, and as usual she does not pull any punches. The introduction includes this:

Dr Mann has transgressed scientific norms and offended First Amendment principles by bringing a defamation claim against Appellants for their pointed criticism of his scientific methodology. Dr. Mann’s suit is unsupportable both because of his behavior toward his critics, particularly amicus curiae Dr. Curry, which demonstrates that the debate over climate science is often contentious and because Dr. Mann engages in the debate often to silence rather than to illuminate. The Court ought not be party to stifling debate.

In the main section, she cites Merton’s scientific norms, and how these were violated by Mann and Jones, as shown by the climategate emails. She also cites several of Mann’s “unseemly comments” about her (“boilerplate climate change denial drivel”, and so on).

Dr. Mann strayed outside the bounds of scientific and public policy debate by bringing this suit in an effort to use the legal system to shut down critics that he was unable to persuade or refute. As one commentator noted, “Mann wants a legal guarantee that he can dish it out, but he doesn’t have to take it.”… This Court should not endorse Dr. Mann’s use of this litigation as a cudgel against critics.

Entering the legal dispute in this way is what Sir Humphrey might call a courageous decision. Inevitably she will be subject to further attacks now, for having done so. I don’t fully understand the legal details but it seems to be a request that the court should reverse their decision not to dismiss Mann’s case.

Presumably Judith Curry will have a blog post about this soon. I will put a link when she does.

Updates:

CEI blog: Climate Scientist Judith Curry Files Legal Brief Supporting CEI’s Free Speech Rights

19 thoughts on “Edwards on Science, Curry on Mann v Steyn

  1. One of the reasons Judith Curry wanted more freedom than she had as a tenured professor at Georgia Tech is revealed. I applaud her for seeking to expose Mann for the juvenile, delinquent character he is. A scientist in name only.

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  2. Unfortunately, Judith Curry fails to properly consider the situation. Publicly accusing scientists of fraud with vague, unsupported accusations is not how science is supposed to work. That someone might file a defamation lawsuit over such is unremarkable. By pretending Michael Mann is merely filing a lawsuit because he was criticized is extremely misleading.

    Freedom of speech is important, but so to is the right to protect one’s reputation. The legal system is designed to provide people remedy when they are (or believe to be) slandered. Criticisms of one’s scientific work that amount to, “He committed fraud” are perfectly in line with what the system is intended to handle.

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  3. Your reference to the research finding that ‘if people are presented with simplified scientific information, they can over-estimate their understanding of the scientific issue’, triggered (in a non-screechy, bring me some puppies, manner) in me my old hunch around the possibility that both Gore and Tickell attended diluted meteorology/climate courses for non-mathematical types, and there were exposed to the chart of rising CO2 levels from Mauna Loa.

    My hunch is that their lecturers were keen to keep their students engaged and that one way to do that was to hype-up that chart – perhaps as unexplained, perhaps as scary (and as a further perhaps, perhaps by using the notion of the greenhouse). Off went G&T on their separate crusades, seized with assurance about their grasp of something others needed to know about.

    Both did well for themselves out of their efforts, but I wish I could say the same for the rest of us – we being the vast chunks of humanity being harmed physically, mentally, and even spiritually by the hideous alarmism over that precious molecule, CO2, and the pleasant, gentle warming and greening that they wish to associate with it as if it were a catastrophe.

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  4. Brandon, I am inclined to agree with you. I don’t find her argument very convincing at first glance. The fact that Mann has said nasty things about Curry, and she hasn’t taken legal action, is in my opinion not very relevant to the question of whether Mann was libelled.

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  5. I haven’t got time to read it yet, but isn’t part of the defence going to be that Mann is a public figure and is open to more criticism than an ordinary citizen? So some of the evidence may be setting the scene to show he has created his own public image?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Brandon She?llenberger:

    Publicly accusing scientists of fraud with vague, unsupported accusations is not how science is supposed to work. [my emphasis]

    The public accusation is “vague”, rhetorical, … nonspecific! It appeared in a blog post for an opinion magazine. The only thing specific about it is that it refers to the hockey stick, and even that’s not specific. Is it MBH’98, MBH’99, Mann2008 or some combination?

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  7. John Shade. I believe Tickell took a whole sabbatical year, but was already convinced of the dangers of climate change before he started. It was also politically expedient, it gave a sort of scientific cover for winding down the coal industry and opposing the unions. I sometimes saw him at meetings at UEA but he had no time for the low life like me.

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  8. Brandon Shollenberger:

    Publicly accusing scientists of fraud with vague, unsupported accusations is not how science is supposed to work. [my emphasis]

    Is the accusation really “unsupported”? Steyn’s blog post was about Penn State’s suspect investigation. The fact that there was an investigation, offers support.

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  9. Mr. Matthews,

    It seems to me that Dr. Curry’s point isn’t as much ‘He slandered me, and I didn’t sue!’ as it is, “He complains of being slandered by Steyn, but then behaves in exactly the same manner towards others.’ If I am reading her correctly, then I think the point is quite appropriate. Mann is demonstrably hypocritical when it comes to personal attacks.

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  10. BRANDON SHOLLENBERGER (26 Jan 17 at 6:16 pm)

    Publicly accusing scientists of fraud with vague, unsupported accusations is not how science is supposed to work. That someone might file a defamation lawsuit over such is unremarkable.

    Agreed about the “vague, unsupported accusations” but the accusations against Mann are anything but that, even if Steyn didn’t spell them out in his article. Mann’s description of Curry’s work as “drivel” is vague and therefore not actionable. The accusation of fraud is precise. Steyn is following the scientific method in making a precise accusation of a moral fault, possibly a crime, and therefore taking a risk. Mann and his colleagues can fill the media with accusations of denialist drivel and take no risks. I know whose side I’m on.

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  11. Canman, neither CEI nor Steyn made any effort to support their accusations when they made them. That’s why I call their accusations unsupported. That somebody could come along and offer support for them doesn’t mean they the authors supported their accusations.

    Semantic issues aside, the point is these people accused a person of engaging in fraudulent work without providing any sort of case for readers to examine. That is a classic approach to slandering someone. Using it exposes you to the risk of a lawsuit. If you don’t want to risk having a defamation lawsuit filed against you, you don’t make accusations of fraud while offering nothing to support them.

    I freely say Michael Mann committed fraud, but imagine if he were completely innocent. Imagine if somebody who had done nothing wrong were targeted with hit pieces like this. A defamation lawsuit could easily wind up being their only avenue of redress. Heck, just look at me. I’ve been slandered a number of times by people baselessly accusing me of criminal activity. The standards that apply to Mann’s suit are the same that’d have been applied to any suit I could have filed. I think they are right.

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  12. The issue in this brief does not concern what Steyn said. Nor whether Mann as a public figure must prove an actual malicious falsehood by Steyn (he is, he cannot based on Steyn’s book A Disgrace to the Profession, so Mann will eventually lose, IMO, and he knows it). Steyn has severed himself from CEI/NR because he wants to go to trial after discovery, along with his $10 million countersuit, and they don’t. Let me explain Curry’s amicus brief as a licensed US lawyer.
    The key is the second paragraph at the top of page 3. Like many juridictions after NYT v. Sullivan, DC passed an Anti-SLAPP law. These are designed to prevent exactly lawsuits like Mann’s, designed to allege defamation in order to silence opposition. Jurisdictional details vary, but they generally apply to public ‘political’ discourse about public figures and their policies or their actions. Anti-SLAPP laws require the complaint be summarily dismissed as even proceeding to trial chills ‘political’ speech. The DC trial judge, the incompetent Green, refused to apply anti-Slapp and dismiss Mann’s suit NR appealed and lost in DC. Appellate judge Ruiz ruled that a reasonable jury could find actual malicious falsehood. She has a very poor reputation as a jurist. Very tardy with rulings (this one was 3 years coming) and very often overturned.This amicus brief is in support of requesting an en banc rehearing of Ruiz decision effectively gutting the AntiSlapp law. If not reversed, CEI has already said will go to SCOTUS.That is why so many amicus briefs were filed for the original appeal (Steyn’s book provides a full inventory). All of which Ruiz apparently ignored. Now, when you read the three arguments, you will understand the issues they are addressing. 1. Science involves sometimes very serious dispute. 2. This is a serious science dispute, and Curry is a Climate scientist previously on record that the hockeystick was very poor science. 3. This court has previously acknowledged 1 and 2. And you can also see why Mann’s specific treatment of Curry is relevant to her brief; he chills her through denegration because she raises the same underlying science issues as NR did in a more informal way. Which is implicitly screaming at the court there is no falsehood in the hockeystick criticism so there can be no actual malice, so there is no reasonable possibility Mann could prevail, so Ruiz was wrong, so rehear en banc before you embarass yourselves. A very nice amicus brief to a very incompetent DC court system.

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  13. PM, the fact that Mann called Curry’s work anti science drivel (and worse on twitter ) is highly relevant to the argument that this chilling lawsuit should be dismissed under DC AntiSlapp. Mann has shown a clear pattern of behavior, pages 6 and 7. In her amicus interest (introductory un numbered page) her standing interest is her quite reasonable fear she will be next in line to be sued by Mann

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  14. Re : PAUL MATTHEWS 26 Jan 17 at 6:24 pm and Brandon
    I think it is a question of context and a fir plying field.
    Let’s face Mann’s friends seem to throw such accusations around against others who don’t have resources to sue.

    Now if your write in your local paper that local plumber Bob is a fraud then that clearly is defamation, as he could lose income.
    If Mann publishes a description of Curry’s work as drivel, then she could suffer loss of income.
    I don’t see such a big difference in this context between fraud and drivel accusations

    If Steyn has studied Mann’s work and he thinks it’s fraud should he keep his mouth shut ?
    If he publishes in an opinion mag say I think it’s fraud cos of X,Y, Z does that harm Mann’s income ? Surely all it does is encourage employers to pause and check for themselves.
    Surely there is a public interest in Steyn publishing his strong feeling. Remember the basis of Mann’s work is partially secret so Steyn can’t offer full proof.

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  15. Paul do you think someone asked Tamsin to read the brief and that’s how the meme got planted in her mind ?
    It is a bizarre coincidence.
    It must be absolutely open that scientists assertions can be publicly challenged in the strongest terms since the public pay for it , and often half the process behind their work is secret.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Brandon, Are you really serious? Defamation is designed to protect people from demonstrably false and very specific accusations. Mann has been accused of many things by a lot of honest scientists and as far as I can tell they are mostly right. Mann’s opus of political polemics is also very slanderous. Libel laws are not intended to protect nasty partisans who are trying to silence criticism. They are largely designed for private persons who are damaged by false specific publicity. Saying “You are a bad doctor” is no less libelous than saying Mann is a scientific fraud. It’s a nonspecific statement. Saying “this doctor caused my cancer to be worsened by his negligence, because he prescribed massive doses of Vitamin C” is perhaps actionable if it is demonstrably false. If it is true, the doctor should have his license pulled.

    You should know better if you have read any of McItyres posts on “torturing data” for example.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Rud (9:27pm and 9:37pm): Thank you. I expressed my heart in the first comment and I did so not totally without understanding of the role of the amicus brief. So I read Brandon and Paul feeling sure they were missing the point but lacking the time, background and expertise to prove it. Good to have you on Cliscep!

    Above and beyond the needs of the grotty US court system my mental model was that Steyn is by now well-versed in all the legal technicalities and that he and Dr Curry have established considerable rapport (mocked in a disgusting and sexist way by the climate elitists, as he has rightly called out). She wanted to help, for the best of reasons, and he would have been delighted to guide her as to the how. Brandon for all his analytical strengths isn’t close enough in relationship to get this one right.

    And getting it right is vitally important, to avoid Mann chilling the freedoms of many and to roll back the chill that has already silenced numerous others. There’s a parallel here with what the Trump new climate broom is trying to do, under the expert guidance of Myron Ebell. Neither prong is at all easy. That’s why I’m taking a strong wait-and-see view about other aspects of Trump. Rolling back the effects of the fake fear in climate is hard enough.

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